Renewable energy can only take us part of the way towards a decarbonized society. Even if we cover the planet with solar panels and wind turbines, we will still need:
- long-term (seasonal) energy storage
- fuels for road freight transport, maritime transport and aviation
- hydrogen and hydrocarbons for the chemical, steel and cement industries
That’s why companies are looking towards P2M: new technology for converting energy – preferably from renewable sources – into valuable molecules, such as hydrogen, ethylene or methanol.
Electrolysis is the name of the game. Green hydrogen (electrolysis of water) is the start, but not the end. Novel electrolysis technologies will enable direct electrolysis of CO2 to produce chemical feedstock or fuels, literally creating molecules out of thin air.
Imec’s portfolio in nanotechnology is helping to push P2M technology forward.
Imec’s technologies for Power-to-Molecules
A most scalable and efficient way of using renewable energy to create higher-value molecules is electrolysis. The process is on a fast track to cost reduction.
That’s where imec technologies can help, for example by improving efficiency, increasing throughput, selectivity and reliability. All with the aim of reducing the Levelized Cost of Hydrogen and of more complex hydrocarbon molecules.
Imec nanotechnologies that provide leverage are:
Imec’s nanomesh is a nanometer-scale scaffold-like structure with highly regular internal dimensions. It’s an ideal material for use in electrodes, because:
- Its large surface area multiplies the number of reaction sites.
- Its high porosity ensures good supply and removal of reagents and products.
Thin-film catalyst technology
Using our expertise in thin-film technology and specialized tools, we can render the nanomesh catalytic. This increases the efficiency and throughput of the electrolysis process even further.
High ion-conductive solid membranes
The solid electrolytes that imec develops to enhance the performance of its batteries are tuned to conduct ions for compact membranes in electrolysis cells.
A more efficient electrolysis process opens the door to novel, decentralized energy solutions. For example: an integrated photovoltaic and electrochemical cell. Here, imec’s decade-long expertise in photovoltaic technology is bound to prove useful.
Mastery of interfaces
Whatever your take is on optimizing the electrolysis process, there’s a good chance that you are looking for insights on how interfaces behave. As a leading R&D hub in nanotechnology, this is exactly the knowhow that imec can provide to you.
Applications of Power-to-Molecules
The ability of efficiently transforming power to molecules will have far-reaching impact in a multitude of industries.
Hydrogen is an essential element in many industries like steel, cement, glass, electronics, fertilizers, polymers and refining. And it can be used to make green synthetic fuels for container ships, airplanes and trucks.
Hydrogen is still being produced primarily by the unsustainable and pollutive steam reforming process. In this process, hydrogen is obtained from natural gas which requires loads of energy. Moreover, the production of one ton of hydrogen emits up to nine tons of carbon dioxide.
Electrolysis releases no carbon dioxide and only requires water and electricity from renewable energy sources. Today, due to the higher cost, electrolysis accounts for only 5 percent of the total hydrogen production. With new technologies such as imec’s nanomesh, that number may soon increase.
CO2 and nitrogen electroreduction
One of the most captivating ways of tackling global warming is carbon capture and utilization (CCU): extracting CO2 from the air and converting it to valuable chemicals such as formic acid, ethylene and methanol.
Current CCU technologies use a two-step process: first the CO2 is captured, purified and compressed. In a second stage, it’s transformed into valuable molecules using electrolytic hydrogen. Both stages require energy.
Imec researchers work on a revolutionizing technology to bring this process to one single step: the direct electrochemical conversion of CO2 to valuable molecules directly from point sources such as a factory’s exhaust and eventually even directly from the air.
Similar technologies may be used for reducing nitrogen from the air to produce ammonia as chemical feedstock or fuel.
Work with us
Power-to-Molecules is a technology that promises a multitude of economical, ecological and societal benefits such as reduced CO2 emissions and increased energy independence.
The European Union actively supports the development of Power-to-Molecule technologies through Horizon 2020 projects of which imec is a frequent partner. Companies from sectors such as energy, chemistry, steel and cement are welcomed as valuable partners in these research tracks.
Furthermore, you can engage the support of imec’s researchers and infrastructure for your development of P2M technology in bilateral collaborations.